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  1. When to Use Your Amp's Effects Loop by Mitch Gallagher In my opinion, we live in the Golden Age of Guitar Gear. Yes, I know that there are certain lust-worthy vintage guitars, amps, and pedals, but the vast array of great gear available today — much of it amazingly affordable in relative terms — is unrivaled. But all that gear brings a lot of questions. Let’s focus in on just one of those questions today — but it’s one that can make a big difference in your tone: where do you place your pedals; in front of the amp or in the amp’s effects loop? WHAT A couple of definitions first. “In front of your amp” means connecting the pedals between your guitar and the amp’s input. Run a cable out of the guitar, to the input of the pedal(s), then come out of the pedals into the amp. This is the “old-school” way of connecting pedals, and it has served well in many situations since the late 1960s. “In the amp’s effects loop” begs a bit more explanation. Broadly speaking, there are two sections in a guitar amplifier: First, there’s the preamp, which takes the incoming guitar signal and boosts it up — maybe to (or past) the point of distortion — and shapes the sound using tone controls. Following the preamp section we have the power amp section. This section takes the signal coming from the preamp and radically cranks it up to the level where it can drive a speaker. But it’s the “in-between” point that we’re interested in here — the junction between the preamp and the power amp. We can break that junction and send the signal out of the preamp to be processed by effects, then bring the processed signal back in to be amplified by the power amp. (Thus the original name for an amplifier effects loop: preamp out/power amp in.) Back in the day, this resulted in some compatibility issues, since the output from the preamp can be too hot to drive many pedals. But today, most amplifier effects loops use buffering circuitry so that everything connects together happily. LOOPY There are two ways that an effects loop in a guitar amp can be set up. With a series effects loop, the entire signal coming from the preamp routes out of the effects loop to be processed and is brought back in — the idea is still “preamp out/power amp in,” but usually with buffering and proper signal levels. This works great if you want to process the complete signal and/or can control the wet/dry balance of effected vs. unaffected signal inside your pedals with their built-in mix or blend controls. In most cases, this is the type of effects loop you’ll see in guitar amps. The second approach is a parallel effects loop. In this case, the signal from the preamp is split before it continues on to the loop. One side routes straight to the power amplifier, so it remains dry, with no effects. The other side routes out of the effects loop to be processed, is brought back in, and mixes with the dry signal. This is handy when you want to blend wet and dry but you don’t have control over wet/dry mix within your pedals. One other detail: some amplifier effects loops feature level controls or can be switched from +4 to -10 or to instrument level. This allows the loop to feed studio-quality rack gear or regular guitar pedals equally well. Generally, if you’re using rack gear, you’ll want to be at +4. if you’re using pedals, you’ll want to be at the lower setting. CONNECTIONS With that background information out of the way, let’s talk about where to connect your pedals. As with most discussions of guitar gear and tone, you’re going to see a lot of “it depends” sorts of comments here. That’s because there really is no right or wrong with this topic, you won’t damage any gear by hooking it up “wrong,” and you’re not going to hurt my feelings if you don’t follow the “rules.” The goal is to achieve the tone that you want. Whatever you have to do to make that tone happen is just fine. Let’s get one thing out of the way, right away: You can connect all your pedals in front of the amp, just like Jimi did back in 1969 — even if your amp has an effects loop. No harm no foul, and no one says you have to use the loop. The “it depends” part of this is that you may or may not like how all your pedals sound when connected in this way, depending on where you get any overdrive/gain/distortion you’re using from, pedals or the amp. If the amp is serving as a clean, neutral platform, and you’re generating any overdrive/distortion/fuzz using pedals, this will work just fine. In this situation, conventional wisdom says to route out of your guitar, into your gain/dirt pedals, then into time-based effects (delay and reverb), then into the clean input of the amp. Modulation (chorus, flange, phase, rotary speaker, et al) and other effects (filters, EQ, pitch shift, et al) can go either before the dirt pedals for a more washed out sound or after the dirt pedals for a more intense effect. Typically you would not run your time-based effects in front of the dirt pedals, because the distortion tends to compress incoming signals, changing the relationship of the delay to the dry signal and making things messy. But it depends! Some players want that kind of sound. Reverb is very rarely used before dirt pedals; it just doesn’t distort very well. We can take this same approach — but integrate the effects loop into it — if you’re using the preamp of your amplifier to generate your gain/distortion/overdrive/fuzz. Put any boosts or overdrives in front of the amp to hit the input harder. But put time-based delays and reverbs into the loop to process the distorted sound. This will give a cleaner response and more defined sound from delays. As before, reverb tends to work best at the end of the chain — in this case, “end of the chain” meaning last in the effects loop — but of course, it depends… Modulation and other effects can go either in front of the amp or in the effects loop depending on the result that you want from them. EXCEPTIONS There are a few types of pedals that work well either in front of the amp or in the effects loop…depending on what you want. We already mentioned modulation effects. Another example is a volume pedal. You can place it at the front of your chain, to control the volume from the guitar feeding into your pedals and amp. You can place it last in the chain in front of your amp, as sort of a master volume control for the effects chain. Or, you can place it in the effects loop as an overall master volume control for the whole rig, before or after delays and reverb — if it’s in front of delays, you can use it to create “swell” and “ambient” effects. it depends on how you want to use the volume pedal. SUM IT UP Here are basic guidelines (not rules) that will help you get started with figuring out how to route your pedals. Note #1: in all of these, modulation and other pedals (filters, pitch shift, EQ, etc.) can be placed in several different locations, depending on the result you want. Note #2: some wah pedals prefer to be the first pedal in the chain, before any buffers. Clean or dirty amp with no effects loop, or clean amp with gain from distortion/overdrive/fuzz pedals: Guitar buffer, tuner, wah & compressor, if used modulation & other pedals (option 1) dirt pedals modulation & other pedals (option 2) delay modulation & other pedals (option 3) reverb Amp Input Clean amp with effects loop, with gain from distortion/overdrive/fuzz pedals: Guitar buffer, tuner, wah & compressor, if used modulation & other pedals (option 1) dirt pedals modulation & other pedals (option 2) Amp Input Amp Effects Send modulation & other pedals (option 3) delay modulation & other pedals (option 4) reverb Amp Effects Return Dirty amp with effects loop, with gain from amplifier’s preamp: Guitar buffer, tuner, wah & compressor, if used modulation & other pedals (option 1) Amp Input Amp Effects Send modulation & other pedals (option 2) delay modulation other pedals (option 3) reverb Amp Effects Return EVEN SUMMIER To sum it up even more, put your tuner, wah, and gain pedals in front of the amp. (Optionally modulation and other pedals too, if you like that sound.) Put your time-based effects (delay and reverb) in the effects loop. (Optionally modulation and other pedals, too, if you like that sound.) THE BOTTOM LINE Should you route your pedals in front of the amp or in the effects loop? Sure! You should! Both can work very well, depending on the sound you want. There is “Conventional Wisdom,” but use that as a starting point, not as a rule inscribed in rock. Experiment! You won’t hurt anything, and you may find combinations of pedals and routings that you like. __________________________________________________ Mitch Gallagher, is one of the leading music/pro audio/audio recording authorities in the world. The former senior technical editor of Keyboard magazine and former editor-in-chief of EQ magazine, Gallagher has published thousands of articles, is the author of seven books and one instructional DVD, and appears in well over 500 videos on YouTube. He teaches audio recording and music business at Purdue University/Indiana University, and has appeared at festivals, conventions, and conferences around the world.
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  2. Most people agree that an educated populace benefits society—where they disagree is on what “education” means. With ever-tightening budgets, some make a case that music education in schools isn’t as important as math, science, and language skills. But it’s hard to make that case once you realize that the benefits of music education are beyond dispute. Kids who play music tend to score better on tests in a variety of areas—not just music. Graduation levels are higher for kids who study music, as are test scores for reading and spelling. Even attendance is better at schools with music programs. It’s easy to pay lip service to music education, like the states that guarantee music education programs—but never fund them. And while the stats for schools offering music programs look good superficially, dig deeper and you’ll find that all is not well. Having a music program doesn’t just mean checking off a box that says “music program.” We need excellent music programs. Musical tastes change from generation to generation, and while it’s important to teach music history and fundamentals, I suspect that the number of children who want to take music classes (which are often elective courses in high school) would increase if they were exposed to music education in grade school, and offered programs that gave more attention to contemporary musical styles. Furthermore, it's also time we reconsidered the methods and tools used for musical instruction, and provided our instructors with better tools based on their input—as well as serious research studies—of how they can perform their jobs more effectively. Computers are ubiquitous today, as is modern recording technology. Courses that taught how to use basic recording programs could also focus on music theory and how to read music notation. Much of that would be computer-assisted, thus teaching students about computers as well. As to funding, we're starting to see a sharp decline in high school football programs, due in large part to increasing concerns over the long-term negative effects of head trauma injuries. Let’s allocate the funds used for football programs and marching bands to more general music education—problem solved. As a product of the public school system, my first exposure to playing music came through music classes. I was extremely fortunate to have a series of excellent band directors, who helped stoke my innate love for music. Music became my life, and still is. Of course, not everyone who takes music classes will end up becoming a musician or recording engineer—but the evidence is compelling that they’ll become better at whatever they become...and that will benefit all of us. -HC- What do you think? Do you have ideas about how musical education can be reimagined and improved for the 21st century? I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on the subject, so please drop into this thread right here on Harmony Central and tell us what you think. __________________________________________________ Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
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